Metro

Dave Epstein

Nothing like Hurricane Harvey has hit the US in more than a decade

Hurricane Harvey, which went from a cluster of thunderstorms to a tropical storm and then nearly died out, has now rejuvenated itself in a major way. This is a serious storm with serious potential consequences for Texas when it makes landfall either Friday night or early Saturday morning. This is something the United States hasn’t seen in more than a decade, and the damage could be catastrophic for some areas.

You need to go back to the year 2005, the most active hurricane season on record, the one in which Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and Wilma hit Florida that October, to find the last time a major hurricane reached the shores of the United States. That year, four major hurricanes struck the United States, and thereafter the major hurricane drought began. This is the longest such period since record-keeping started in the mid-1800s.

Rapidly stronger

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As much as we understand about hurricanes, they can still surprise us. Just days ago, the forecast for Harvey was for it to come ashore as a tropical storm with a significant amount of rainfall.

Now the forecast is for this to become a major hurricane with winds in excess of 110 miles per hour. The winds will be damaging, but the rainfall has the potential to be biblical in proportion. The advisory Thursday evening from the Hurricane Center talks about the potential for nearly 3 feet of rainfall in isolated areas. There are very few cases of rainfall amounts of that caliber. Hurricane Amelia in 1978 did bring 48 inches of rainfall to Medina, Texas, so it’s not impossible.

Slow movement

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Tropical systems by nature have heavy rain. It’s when they move slowly or even remain nearly stationary that freshwater issues arise. The storm surge from the ocean is created by the winds and the pressure differences around the center of the storm, but the rainfall creates street and river flooding that can lead to sometimes even bigger issues. The slow movement also leads to a good deal of uncertainty beyond two days as to exactly what happens with Harvey.

New England effects

It’s highly unlikely Harvey brings anything more than a few showers to the region in a week or more, if ever. This storm could rain itself out well to our south with nothing more than a few showers here sometime in seven or more days, but of course that is so far into the future, it might never happen. One thing is for sure — this won’t be a big deal here in New England, at least in terms of weather, but it could affect us in other ways.

Oil and gas issues

When several hurricanes struck the Gulf Coast over a decade ago, we did see an effect here in New England in the form of higher energy prices. A category 1 hurricane won’t have much effect on the energy sector along the Texas coast, but a category 3 would. If Harvey reaches that level, you can be sure that in spite of our sunny skies for the next week, you’ll notice the price of gasoline increasing. The storm, along with the Labor Day weekend looming, could hit our wallets even if we don’t see a drop of rain here for another week.

Follow Dave Epstein on Twitter @growingwisdom.
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